Emma Satyamurti: The fight continues for equal pay

emma satyamurti

That a woman should be paid the same as a man for doing the same or similar work is no longer controversial. Sadly, this does not mean that pay parity is a guaranteed feature of our workplaces. This year, we saw a recent high-profile example of this in the case of Carrie Gracie, the BBC’s then China editor, who discovered that she was being paid significantly less than her male North America counterpart.

More challenging, perhaps, is the principle that women are entitled to equal pay for work that is different from, but of equal value to, work done by comparable male colleagues. Men can also claim equal pay with women under these circumstances, though in practice such claims are rarer. This is a central strand of the right to equal pay and is a particularly important tool for tackling the pattern of lower pay being given for jobs predominantly done by women or involving skills viewed, consciously or unconsciously, as feminine. This is because the right to equal pay for work of equal value allows a woman to look beyond those doing the same sort of work as she does and, if various legal tests are met, to compare herself with a man doing work that superficially may bear little resemblance to her own.

Each element of the jobs being compared is considered and scored by reference to the skills and effort it requires; if the woman’s total score is the same or higher than the man’s, she is entitled to the same pay as he gets, unless the employer can successfully defend the difference in pay.

Examples of claims that have been successfully litigated by comparing different jobs include carers comparing themselves with bin men, a job title which itself neatly illustrates the relevance of gender-segregation in the equal pay context.

While historically the focus of equal pay litigation has largely been in the public sector, unequal pay is no less an issue for private organisations. At Leigh Day, we are currently pursuing legal action on behalf of groups of store employees against the four largest supermarkets; ASDA, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and, most recently, Morrisons.

The basis of the claims is that the predominantly female staff working in stores, for example as customer and check-out assistants, are performing work of equal value to that done by the mostly male workforce in the distribution centres, but are paid significantly less. Our contention is that this is another widespread manifestation of employers’ tendency to ascribe greater value to ‘male’ jobs than to ‘female’, where this is not justified by the actual demands of the work.

Emma Satyamurti is partner in the employment team at Leigh Day